Posts Tagged ‘Lou Reed’

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Lou Reed’s influence has touched each new generation of music fans. These are his best albums, When American rock critic Lester Bangs called Lou Reed “a completely depraved pervert and pathetic death dwarf… a liar, a wasted talent, an artist continually in flux, and a huckster selling pounds of his own flesh”, he was describing his hero.

Lou Reed famously changed his mind, frequently, regarding which of his songs he liked and which he loathed. But listen – he loved every last one of them. Every single second of every last one, OK?” There were many turkeys along the way, as well as many triumphs. Few artists in the history of rock’n’roll are as enigmatic as Lou Reed, and few have created a body of work as influential, erratic and controversial as with Lou Reed’s, first seminal art-rock group The Velvet Underground and then as a solo artist.

Born Lewis Allen Reed in Brooklyn, New York on March 2nd, 1942, he was always an outsider. As a teenager he was subjected to electro-shock therapy intended to ‘cure’ homosexuality. In his early 20s he dropped out of university to work as a staff songwriter at Pickwick Records where he wrote novelty pop songs, completely at odds with his love of experimental jazz. It was at Pickwick that Reed met Welsh classically trained musician John Cale. The pair formed a band called The Warlocks, which by 1965 had mutated into The Velvet Underground, comprising Reed on guitar and vocals, Cale on bass, viola and organ, Sterling Morrison on second guitar and Maureen ‘Moe’ Tucker on drums.

The Velvets were a band ahead of time. Their debut album, released in 1967, was the antithesis of the Summer Of Love’s hippie idealism. Their lo-fi sonics and Reed’s dark lyrics proved too uncompromising for mass consumption, but the Velvets’ influence would carry over generations, from David Bowie to punk rock and beyond. It was Bowie who helped Reed achieve his breakthrough success as a solo artist, co-producing 1972’s “Transformer”, the album that featured two of Reed’s best-loved and biggest songs: “Walk On The Wild Side” and “Perfect Day”. But pop stardom didn’t suit Lou Reed, and in 1975 he attempted career suicide with “Metal Machine Music”, an album comprised entirely of guitar feedback.

This maverick streak runs throughout Reed’s career, as evidenced by his final two albums: the ambient electronica of 2007’s Hudson River Wind Meditations, and the unlikely collaboration with Metallica on 2011’s “Lulu”. But it’s with a guitar in hand that Lou Reed created his definitive work as a classic rock’n’roll anti-hero: the outsider, in black leather and shades, the original poster boy for heroin chic, the straight-talking poet laureate of New York City.

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Lou Reed –  Lou Reed (RCA 1972)

After leaving the Velvet Underground, Reed debuted as a solo artist with a self-titled album in June ’72, though most of the songs were originally played at Velvet Underground concerts, or were outtakes from “VU” recording sessions. Reed would establish himself as a major artist in his own right soon enough, but the songs just aren’t strong enough here. My favourite always is the taut, very VU-ish “I Can’t Stand It.”

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Lou Reed – Transformer (RCA, 1972)

“Transformer” remains a remarkable arranged marriage of gritty, witty words and pop succour. It anointed him the godfather of anti-stars, opening up a career that may otherwise have swiftly gone the way of all flesh.

“I don’t have a personality of my own,” Reed said in 1972. “I just pick up on other people’s.”

He’d come to London for a change of pace, to “get out of the New York thing”, but his first, eponymous, post-Velvets solo album, recorded on the dirty boulevards of Willesden Green in West London, had stuttered rather than strutted. Nobody, least of all him, was sure where a former Velvet Underground frontman should go next.

Lou Reed may not have made much of an impact, but Reed’s second album, “Transformer” co-produced by David Bowie and released just five months later that year was a revelation. Its most famous song is the hit single “Walk on the Wild Side,” and “Perfect Day” has become something of a standard over the years. “Vicious” and “Satellite of Love” are quite well known as well. But I’ll go with “I’m So Free,” a catchy rocker that sounds like it could have been made by The Ramones (though that band didn’t even exist yet).

Reed’s self-titled solo debut included various Velvets leftovers and, most bizarrely musicians, Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman of Yes. Unsurprisingly it sold no better than the Velvets’ albums. His second album, released just six months later, made him a superstar. The first time many of us clapped our eyes on Lou Reed was via Mick Rock’s camera lens. “Transformer’s” haunting, kabukistyle cover image was captured during Lou’s debut London show, at King’s Cross in July ‘72. Reed, hastily dressed to impress in a rhinestone jacket by Angie Bowie, gazes into middle distance, the Velvets in his rear view mirror, on the cusp of solo greatness. It’s the ultimate Lou Reed shot.

There’s the fabulous Rock ‘N’ Roll Heart-era shoot: Reed in shades, a leather jacket so small it could’ve been made for a child, under a see-through plastic jacket from Ian’s of St. Mark’s Place, an NYC boutique that did fetish before McLaren and Westwood, just as Lou did punk before Pistols and Ramones. There’s bleached ‘74 Lou: mean ‘n’ moody, dead-eyed ‘n’ skeletal, magnificent. With lines inspired by Warhol (‘hit me with a flower’) and Mick Ronson restraining himself until the fade, it’s a great “hate song”.

Yes of course this should be number one… but we’re non-mainstream, hardcore obsessive fans here, right? And if you’re not being perverse and contrary, you’re not doing Lou Reed right. Whether Lou liked it or not – and he argued both sides depending on that day’s mood swings – it’s the song which made his post-Velvets name and by which the world at large remembers him. He didn’t even think it was a single. Inspired by Nelson Algren and the colourful characters and pansexual “superstars” he’d met at The Factory, its atmosphere, created by Herbie Flowers’ two-note bass slide, The Thunder Thighs’ “doo da doo”s and baritone sax from Ronnie Ross (Bowie’s sax teacher) is immortal. Its purring sarcasm that transformed his career.

“Satellite Of Love” had been demoed by The Velvets in the “Loaded” era, but not with this level of grace and grandeur. The Bowie-Ronson arrangement is redolent of Drive-In Saturday, with the piano flourishing in all the right places and the backing vocals, finger clicks and handclaps extracting the pop from the pomp.

It’s frequently tricky to deduce whether Lou’s being open-hearted or slyly sneering. Is “Perfect Day” a transcendent, vulnerable love song or a subversive paean to smack? Of course, it’s been taken out of his hands since – not least, insanely, by the likes of Boyzone and Pavarotti on the BBC’s chart-topping 1997 Children In Need interpretation. Yet even upon “Transformer’s” release, most listeners heard genuine romance: sangria in the park, feeding animals in the zoo and catching a movie worked as sincerity incarnate. We thought we were someone else. Someone good.

Produced by David Bowie and his guitarist Mick Ronson, Transformer caught the mood of the glam-rock era with Mick Rock’s cover of an androgynous Reed, and some classic pop songs – notably Satellite Of Love and Perfect Day – that echoed Bowie’s early-70s material. The album even gave Reed a Top 10 hit “Walk On The Wild Side”, despite blasé references to drugs and oral sex.

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Lou Reed – New York (Sire, 1989)

New York (1989) is widely regarded as one of Reed’s strongest solo albums, and “Dirty Blvd.” is its principal gem of a song: An unflinching but compassionate tale of a New York boy trapped in a life of squalor and abuse, and yearning to escape. Dion’s aching backing vocals are a perfect touch.

Not for Lou Reed the celebratory swing of Sinatra’s Theme From New York New York, or the romance of Woody Allen’s Manhattan; Reed’s portrait of his home town was drawn from the mean streets he knew so well in his junkie years. New York is essentially a concept album, with instructions by Reed for it to be “listened to in one sitting as though it were a book or a movie”.

Withering satire dominates, with Dirty Blvd. one of many brutally funny vignettes. Dirty Blvd. is also fundamentally a great rock’n’roll song, and New York is an album filled with them. It’s Reed’s late career classic. Recorded in late 1988, Lou Reed’s New York album sounded like he’d spent months glued to six TV sets blaring out a cacophony of bad news. Making sense of noise was always his trick and, given that he liked nothing better than turning observation into fast art, Reed managed to juggle references that ricochet from TV trash talkers like Morton Downey, homicidal killer Bernard Goetz, some bloke called Donald Trump, the Virgin Mary and questionable UN leader Kurt ‘just following orders’ Waldheim.

Despite a bewildering set of references, Lou gave it a universal rock’n’roll thrust, reverting to Velvet Underground aesthetics – two guitars, bass and drums, with occasional glimpses of Moe Tucker on percussion.
From the violent click-clack opening of “Romeo Had Juliette” to the sombre investigation into divine versus human doubt of crucifixion epic “Dime Store Mystery”, “New York” demanded close investigation. Once achieved, you could only marvel at how redolent of time and place the sound was. You can smell the stink of the Hudson River and that unique aroma of greasy avenues that characterise the city in heat. Warhol died, Nico died, but Reed somehow pulled himself out of the creative doldrums to deliver his most acclaimed album in many years, “New York” is so good he only named it once. Its “fierce poetic journalism” (Rolling Stone) now called out, instead of wallowing in, urban squalor.

The remastered Deluxe Edition brings clarity to the hit song Dirty Blvd (Dion DiMucci’s vocals providing an appropriate Latino twist) and the stately evisceration of political corruption held like a flaming torch above Strawman.

All the songs get the live treatment from an already available concert recorded in Montreal. Work tapes and a live Sweet Jane and Walk On The Wild Side add heft, but the main work is the thing here.

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Lou Reed – Berlin (RCA, 1973)

Rolling Stone magazine billed Lou Reed’s third solo album as “the Sgt. Pepper of the 70s”. Many since have called it The Most Depressing Album Of All Time. The truth is probably somewhere in between.

Berlin is undeniably Reed’s most over-the–top statement. With a lavish production and an all-star cast including Steve Winwood, it’s a concept album-cum-rock opera: the story of a doomed, drug-fuelled romance, told by Reed in the style of a heavily medicated torch singer. He was rewarded with a Top 10 hit in the UK. In the US the album stiffed and Lou went back underground.

Berlin (1973) is, I think, one of Reed’s greatest efforts — an extremely dark song cycle whose characters suffer through addiction, abuse and more. It really has to be heard in its entirety to be fully appreciated but here is “Lady Day,” the album’s second song, which offers a first glimpse at one of the doomed characters, foreshadowing what is to come but not fully descending into tragedy yet. “I said, ‘No, no, no, oh Lady Day,’ ” the narrator sings over and over, as if trying to fend off what is coming.

Berlin – the most gothic thing ever made in Willesden – works best as a whole, especially the slide into unrelenting sorrow of its second half. Yet the great concept albums – “a film for the ears”, producer Bob Ezrin called this – demand a big pay-off finish, and boy does Berlin bring that home. “Sad Song” is bombastic, but Reed’s forlorn, muted voice contrasts perfectly with the sturm und drang. Every time you think his character’s getting soft (‘she looked like Mary Queen of Scots’), he snaps back brutally (‘just goes to show how wrong you can be’). They don’t do mean-spirited melodrama like this any more.

Before Side 2 of “Berlin” gets really dark, Side 1 is merely very dark indeed. This straddles the line between autobiography and fiction (‘speeding and lonely’), with Reed’s phrasing urgent yet studied. Bob Ezrin lets Alice Cooper’s guitarists fully let rip only once the story’s told. A tangible plea for a reprieve from the horrors of existence and making love by proxy. The album’s most upbeat track, then.

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Lou Reed – Coney Island Baby (RCA, 1976)

After the commercial disaster of 1975’s Metal Machine Music, Lou had his back to the wall. “I had no money and no guitars,” he confessed. Reed had to promise his record label that he wouldn’t make ‘Son of Metal Machine Music’, and he was as good as his word. Just five months after releasing Metal Machine Music, Reed went in almost the direct opposite direction on “Coney Island Baby”. Though not without its dark moments, it’s dominated by melodic, straightforward pop and rock music, and Reed has rarely sounded as tender and sincere as he does on the doo wop-flavored title track.

“Coney Island Baby” is classic Lou Reed, described in Rolling Stone as “timeless, terrific rock‘n’roll”. Reed has never written a more beautiful song than this album’s title track. A bitter-sweet lament, reminiscent of Dylan’s best 70s work, it ends with the redemptive mantra: ‘The glory of love might see you through.’ In desperation, Reed had dug deep. It’s emblematic of Reed’s career that as many fans think Coney Island Baby is a flaccid filler as rate it as one of his strongest. Following Metal Machine Music with a tender, vulnerable pastiche of soul and doo-wop had everyone confused. Yet its mellow mood is broken by the incongruous, visceral fusion of words, music, muttering voices and jolting sounds which constitute Kicks. It’s as if Reed’s dark side is banging on the closet door, demanding to be let out. Sex, blood and adrenalin: it’s intense.

His piece de resistance: a loping soul groove, deft doo-wop and Bob Kulick’s glistening guitar interjections knit a backdrop over which wannabe tough guy Reed drops the façade and exposes his youthful dreams and emotions (‘I wanted to play football for the coach’). It’s also a love letter to his transgender muse, Rachel. From the opening monologue’s intimacy through the nod to The Five Keys’ Glory Of Love (one of his favourite oldies), to the redemptive public-declaration-of-commitment punch-line, Coney Island Baby is as sensitive as it is audacious, and, sonically, a glory. Reed’s world was often ‘a funny place, something like a circus or a sewer’, but here his better angels come shining through.

You could argue the case for A Gift as being one of Coney Island Baby’s highlights – “it’s so funny”, said Lou – but this old Velvets draft from 1968 is updated with terrific feel, for which one-off producer Godfrey Diamond never got due credit. An exquisite surge of rhythm and lead guitars mesh with Bowie-influenced call-and-response “la la la”s, and Reed gauges his vocal to build from confident to pleading. Either his most sincere or artificial love song.

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Growing Up In Public (1980)

On the witty, intricately arranged “Growing Up In Public”, Reed takes one last long hard look at his various personalities before hitting forty. ‘I’m so damned sane’, he said. This pomp-rock opener, all piano pirouettes and dovetailed dynamics, a capella blurts and handclaps, borders on sounding like Queen. Lou gives it conviction, asking how he’s supposed to talk to pretty girls when his father was “weak” and “simpering”.

“Think It Over,” from Growing Up in Public (1980), is, I think, an overlooked gem in Reed’s catalogue, a sensitively sung grown-up love song that finds the singer proposing marriage but being warned by his partner that they shouldn’t rush into anything: “When you ask for someone’s heart/You must know that you’re smart/Smart enough to care for it, so I’m gonna/Think it over.”

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Magic And Loss  (Magic And Loss, 1992)

Reed stared into the abyss of death on 1992’s “Magic and Loss”, which also, somehow, included one of his catchiest songs ever: “What’s Good,” in which he explores existential confusion in a playful way (“What good is seeing eye chocolate/What good’s a computerized nose/And what good was cancer in April/Why no good, no good at all”) and concludes, “Life’s good, but not fair at all.”

Lou’s “Magic And Loss” album, which he compared to Beethoven’s Fifth, was a set of buttoned-up ponderings on cancer and death which came dressed as Lofty Art: audiences who came to see him play it were barred from drinking or talking. Some believed his hype: weirdly it’s his highest-charting UK album (no.6). But it was no Berlin, bar this slow-burn finale about passing through fire.

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Lou Reed – Rock ’N’ Roll Animal (RCA, 1974)

The best of Reed’s 11 live albums was partly a reaction to the harsh criticism and weak US sales of the ambitious “Berlin”. As its spiky title implied, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal” had Reed going back to basics, reprising Velvets songs while reaffirming his popular image as rock’s junkie-in-chief. After releasing his commercial breakthrough Transformer in 1972 and the ambitious Berlin song cycle in 1973, Reed made one of the all-time great live albums, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal”, recorded at the Academy of Music in New York in December ’73 and released in 1974. With the exception of “Lady Day,” from Berlin, the songs all dated back to his Velvet Underground years, and benefited from the muscular, polished guitar work of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner. Hunter also wrote the stunning new extended intro for album opener “Sweet Jane”:

Reed is backed by a slick five-piece band featuring guitarists Dick Wagner (a future Alice Cooper sidekick) and Steve Hunter. Their flashy licks transformed “Sweet Jane” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll” into swaggering arena rock anthems, while the album’s centrepiece, a woozy, 13-minute version of “Heroin”, couldn’t have done more to glamourise Reed’s drug of choice.

Reed’s 1974 live album “Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal” was such a revelation that in 1975, he released more songs from the same 1973 concert as Lou Reed “Live”. “Vicious,” like the best of Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, got a major boost from the hard-hitting guitar work of bandmates Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner.

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Metal Machine Music (1975)

The double album Metal Machine Music (1975) — almost universally reviled upon its release and rarely played again by anyone, afterwards — is an audacious experiment: Each side of the vinyl release contains 16 minutes of screeching electronic noise. I can hear some music in it, if I try really hard. But I would never listen to more than 30 seconds or so, voluntarily. To endure the whole thing in one sitting would be torture. Yet Reed clearly intended it as a sort of symphony (or anti-symphony) in four parts, so I am sharing, here, the whole thing. Enjoy.

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Rock And Roll Heart (1976)

1976’s “Rock and Roll Heart” was all over the place, ranging from plainspoken ballads to moody, Berlin-like art-pop and hard-edged rock, with even some occasional jazz influence working its way in. “Follow the Leader” was written back in the Velvet Underground days and still feels unformed — more like a sketch than a finished song. But Reed’s new band (featuring keyboardist Michael Fonfara, saxophonist Marty Fogel, bassist Bruce Yaw and drummer Michael Suchorsky) helps give it an urgent edge and make it a standout.

“Rock And Roll Heart”, with Reed producing and playing all the guitars, was a confused response to CBGB punk, which he took a while to grasp. “I’m too literate to be into punk rock”. It leaps between fiery riffs and self-parodying neo-jazz. Just when you’re boxing it off, he pulls out this moody, wilfully repetitive showstopper, a love-hate song, possibly to drugs, which feels clammy, grubby – you can smell it in your hair the next day. It’s trashy, it’s melodramatic, it’s Reed in excelsis.

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New Sensations (RCA, 1984)

In the early 80s, Reed quit booze and drugs, and regained his credibility with two cult classic albums: The Blue Mask and Legendary Hearts. What followed those was the most accessible work of his entire career. Shockingly, New Sensations was the sound of Reed lightening up.

I Love You, Suzanne, the most upbeat pop song Reed has ever written, set the tone, while the nonchalantly funky title track even had him pledging to ‘eradicate my negative views’. The album wasn’t a hit (No.56 in the US, No.92 in the UK). Perhaps the public just wouldn’t buy a happy Lou Reed. Five years later the bleak New York proved a more effective comeback.

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Mistrial, 1986

“Mistrial” (1986) was notable for Reed’s experiment in rap — lead single “The Original Wrapper” as well as “Video Violence,” a bracing protest song about the pervasiveness of violent images in film and television. Horrors have become mundane: “Up in the morning, drinking his coffee/Turns on the TV to some slasher movie,” Reed sings.

“When I was thirty my attitude was bad”. Yes, and your records were good. “Mistrial” is, apart from the hilarious The Original Wrapper, the sound of a forty-something man yelling at the telly from the sofa (Video Violence), and even Reed later bemoaned the production. This closing curveball, where Lou mistakes a film set for a UFO, carried a sly hint of the ghost of Transformer.

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The Bells (1979)

Yep, we’re *that* hardcore obsessive. Recorded in Germany, the left-handed jazz-rock of “The Bells” climaxes with this noir nine-minute electronic drone, punctuated with Don Cherry’s wailing tributes to Ornette Coleman and semi-audible whispers and prayers. At the last, Reed’s chipped voice breaks in, spontaneously reciting the story of a Broadway actor falling in ecstasy from a rooftop to his death. “The whole thing is a mood piece, supposed to cause an emotion”, he explained. It does. Not an easy listen, it’s inexplicably profoundly affecting.

“The Bells” is most notable for its daring, haunting title track, which lasts more than nine minutes, most of which is devoted to an ominous, free-form instrumental (featuring co-writer Marty Fogel on saxophone and Don Cherry on trumpet) wrapped around a short song about an actor committing suicide.

“If you can’t play rock and you can’t play jazz”, declared Lou, “put the two together and you’ve really got something”. “The Bells” is a bizarre, bipolar mix of experiments in binaural sound and so-dumb-it’s-smart pop, as if he’d noticed Bowie’s Berlin wall-demolishing and fancied some of that. Hated by punk purists at the time, “proof” to them that Reed had “lost it”, Disco Mystic is white funk if you ran it through a photocopier fifty times then drained its blood then got an inauthenticity expert to triple-check it was fully inauthentic. Pastiche? Homage? It’s stupidly, brilliantly funky.

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Street Hassle (1978)

The title track of 1978’s Street Hassle and its 11-minute, three-part centerpiece is musically gorgeous and lyrically ambitious, starting with tales of deadpan decadence but building to a heart breaking peak, with a cameo by Bruce Springsteen in the middle. Interesting fact: Reed claimed he wrote the “Tramps like us, we were born to pay” line without consciously thinking about “Born to Run.”

Part seedy punk, part cello-led rock opera, “Street Hassle” was, hoped Reed, a cross between “Burroughs, Selby, Chandler, Dostoevsky and rock’n’roll. Dirty mainstream snot”. The 11-minute, three-movement title track sees those looped cellos circling like vultures as Lou tells a graphic (even by his standards) tale of O.D.s, “little girls” and “bad shit”. And ultimately, “bad luck”. Probably the eeriest thing Bruce Springsteen has ever anonymously guested on.

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Take No Prisoners (1978)

The double album Take No Prisoners (1978) was Reed’s third live album of the ’70s, and his fifth if you count Velvet Underground live albums. It was recorded at The Bottom Line in New York — an intimate, hometown venue for him — and finds him frequently talking at length, rambling on about all kinds of stuff, though he sticks to the music on the explosive album closer, “Leave Me Alone.”

 

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Set The Twilight Reeling (1996)

After a run of painfully worthy, hark-at-me I’m-so-profound albums, it was a relief and release to hear Lou crank up the guitars again, even if it meant his interviews became yawnsome drones about amplifiers and studio technology. It’s full of clumsy poetry, but this attempt to echo Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle” does climax with a flare of the old heat.

“Set the Twilight Reeling” (1996) contained some of the strangest songs of Reed’s career (“Egg Cream,” “Sex With Your Parents”), and that’s really saying something. But it also boasts, among its highlights, one of his greatest heart-to-heart ballads, the low-key but musically beguiling “Hang On to Your Emotions.”

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The Blue Mask (1982)

“The Blue Mask” marked a new chapter, with a new, often loud guitar band. But its best moments involve restrained musical subtlety. Stand-out The Gun has that, but also has Reed’s sinister, deadpan narration covering violence, intimidation, home invasion, possibly rape. It’s genuinely scary, reminding us that Reed had the genius to make a track haunt your psyche.

The Blue Mask(1982) was widely hailed as a triumph on its release, featuring sympathetic and dynamic backing by a tight three-piece band (guitarist Robert Quine, bassist Fernando Saunders, drummer Doane Perry) and a strong batch of songs. There’s no camp and no bizarre experiments here, and no hip indifference. Here is the album’s opening song, “My House,” which functions as both a tribute to Reed’s lyrical mentor (the poet and short story writer Delmore Schwartz) and an introduction to the new, mature, contented Reed. “I really got a lucky life/My writing, my motorcycle and my wife/And to top it all off a spirit of pure poetry/Is living in this stone and wood house with me,” he sings.

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Sally Can’t Dance (1974)

Reed claimed to hate “Sally Can’t Dance” (his only US top ten album), but it’s rich with wry asides. Ennui, all but hidden away, is one of his frequent accidental not-trying-too-hard flashes of genius. It floats on a sullen mood, his voice so low it rumbles as he, cynical but arch, advises, ‘Pick up the pieces of your life/maybe someday you’ll have a wife’. Then he adds, ‘And alimony’. That punchline’s so unexpected that you laugh as you reel. “It’s the track most people skip, I guess”, said Lou. “It must be; it’s the one I like”.

After three striking albums in a row, Reed ran out of steam on 1974’s “Sally Can’t Dance”, which goes for shock value at times and crass commercialism at others while rarely making much of an impact. The only track I can really recommend is the raw, harrowing “Kill Your Sons,” inspired by Reed’s own family history and his experiences with mental illness.

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Legendary Hearts (1984)

When writing about Reed, one tends to focus on his lyrics and his audacious sonic experiments, but the main attraction of “Martial Law” (the standout track from 1983’s Legendary Hearts) is the hypnotic groove Reed creates with the album’s stellar band: guitarist Robert Quine, drummer Fred Maher and bassist Fernando Saunders.

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Live in Italy (1984)

The double album Live in Italy (1984) offers a snapshot of Reed’s great early-’80s band (guitarist Robert Quine, bassist Fernando Saunders and drummer Fred Maher) and shows them, here, stretching out on an intense medley of the Velvet Underground songs “Some Kinda Love” and “Sister Ray.”

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Songs For Drella

Starting with 1989’s New York, Reed’s stretch on Sire Records saw a robust return to form after years of weak albums, in a period that also saw him pick up his guitar again and finally find personal happiness with partner Laurie Anderson.

Reed reunited with John Cale for the poignantly Warhol-homaging “Songs For Drella”, No one expected Reed and his equally headstrong Velvet Underground partner John Cale ever to make an album together after Cale left the group in 1968. But that’s what happened in 1990, when they reunited to record a tribute to their mentor Andy Warhol, who had died in 1987. Their chemistry was back in full force on much of it, including “Work,” which is about Warhol’s fierce work ethic. Reed sings: “Sometimes when I can’t decide what I should do/I think what would Andy have said/He’d probably say you think too much/That’s ’cause there’s work that you don’t want to do.”

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Perfect Night: Live in London (1998)

Perfect Night: Live in London (recorded in ’97, released in ’98) was Reed’s fifth concert album (his eighth if you count the Velvet Underground) and unique among them for its calmness and clarity. This isn’t Lou Reed the showman or Lou Reed the provocateur, just Lou Reed the rock craftsman and a great, sympathetic band (guitarist Mike Rathke, bassist Fernando Saunders, drummer Tony “Thunder” Smith) working their way through his catalogue. Here’s “Busload of Faith,” from Reed’s New York album.

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Ecstasy (2000)

In 2000, Reed released his “Ecstasy” album. With a one-of-a-kind video like this, how could I not share “Modern Dance”? (I actually like the song quite a bit, too.)

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The Raven (2003)

Lou Reed’s 2003 double album “The Raven” was an ambitious, uneven affair, featuring songs written for “POEtry” — Reed’s 2000 collaboration with director Robert Wilson, an experimental opera based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe — with support from a multitude of guest musicians and actors, including David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, Steve Buscemi and Willem Dafoe. Here’s “Guilty,” featuring one of Reed’s biggest influences, Ornette Coleman, on alto sax.

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Animal Serenade

Animal Serenade” was a live album, recorded in Los Angeles in 2003, featuring a kind of chamber-pop band configuration with Reed and Mike Rathke on guitars, Fernando Saunders on bass and vocals, Jane Scarpantoni on cello, and some guest vocals by Antony Hegarty (of Antony & the Johnsons). Rathke also does an amazing job of re-creating the sound of a piano on a guitar synthesizer: Listen to him do so here on “Vanishing Act,” originally from the then-recent album “The Raven”.

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Lulu ( 2011)

Lou Reed’s last studio album was “Lulu”, recorded with Metallica and released in 2011; he died in 2013. Lulu got mixed reviews, including some very negative ones. I’m not a huge fan of it myself but do offer, here, a track that I think does work pretty well: “Iced Honey.”

Celebrating Lou Reed

Lou Reed Archive Now Available

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is thrilled to announce that the Lou Reed Archive has been processed and is now available to users. The Lou Reed Archive documents the history of Reed’s life as a musician, composer, poet, writer, photographer, and tai-chi student through his own extensive papers, photographs, recordings and other materials. The archive spans Reed’s creative life—from his 1958 Freeport High School band, the Shades, to his final performances in 2013.

How to Use and Access the Lou Reed Archive

Materials from the Lou Reed Archive are available onsite at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, located in Lincoln Center.

  • Browse the Lou Reed finding aid.
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Listen Like Lou Playlist

As part of Lou Reed’s archives,  the Library for the Performing Arts also acquired his personal collection of LPs. His reflects the diversity of his interests, from the expected fellow punk-inspired artists like Elvis Costello and Iggy Pop, to opera, rap, and hip hop, to baroque instrumental suites and the Boston Pops orchestra. Because they are, by and large, commercial recordings, most can be found through your local branch or streaming service. We’ve compiled a Listen Like Lou playlist that reflects the LPs in his collection. Listen here

Lou Reed Reading List

The Library has created a book list dedicated to the great poet and musician in appreciation of his legacy. You can find the list here

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Lately I’ve been reading a book on a favourite artist which is ultimately about music and technology and the quest for a sonic purity in the context of rock and roll. “My Week Beats Your Year” is about Lou Reed. Yes, the Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground (VU), discovered by Andy Warhol and who worked with Bowie. He’s also the Lou Reed who walked away from rock ‘n’ roll’s drug-booze freak show of the 1970s to become a voice of reason and clarity about everything from the power of guitar and amplifier tones to the focused muscle-mind control of Tai Chi martial arts. 

In reading My Week Beats Your Year  a collection of fascinating interviews, compiled by Michael Heath and edited by Pat Thomas — we get a portrait of an artist discovering his true calling. There you also witness his frustration as a new generation of media seemed mostly focused on sensationalist retro history. From a publicity standpoint I suspect some blame lies with his handlers who I am guessing didn’t grasp what Lou was about and where he was heading. Thus he was put into situations which frequently turned hostile. Lou tries to talk about his music yet the reviewers fall back on insipid questions that had been covered and discussed to death everywhere else.

Across the interviews you start to side with Lou who could get quite aggressive with journalists.  I suspect that if his publicists had steered Lou more towards the audiophile leaning press High Fidelity, Stereo Review and Audio rather than the (admittedly influential, marketing wise) rock ‘zines like Creem and Rolling Stone he would’ve been much happier. All he really wanted to do was talk about the music. 

As I read “My Week Beats Your Year”, I recognized a compelling arc of artistic flower. Amidst this, an interesting detail emerges: Lou Reed was an audiophile at heart. I kind of knew this, but didn’t fully understand how deep his passion went into his soul. 

Right from the start, when the VU was recording its first two albums Lou was searching for distinctive sounds. Frankly, it is remarkable that MGM Records even released that second VU album, White Light White Heat, as it contains perhaps one of the most intentionally distorted recordings ever released. The story goes that the band was playing so loud the engineers walked out in disgust until they were done.  An exercise in magnetic tape over-saturation (which creates its own unique sonic texture) when you listen to the song “Sister Ray” it sounds like an eruption. In Spinal Tap terms, their amps “went to 11” but the tape recorder’s VU meters probably sat in the red zone most of it. And it sounds pretty amazing all things considered.

Fast forward through the 70s and we see Lou frustrated by not having complete control over his art. In response to this he created an album that is either considered by some as insane and others as absolutely brilliant. He delivered to RCA a recording that nearly killed his career: Metal Machine Music. Four sides of multi-tracked guitar feedback and distortion — it was even released in quadraphonic!  Lou defends its release to the point where you realize it really wasn’t a joke. He was into it. That album was recalled three weeks after its release yet it went on to become the stuff of legend. Eventually it was transcribed and performed live with other musicians, which even surprised Lou! Heck, he even played it live on tour.

In the 1980s Lou exited the fast rock ‘n’ roll life, re-emerging focused, mature and shockingly happy in long term relationships, most notably to performance and recording artist Laurie Anderson.  Free of drugs, booze and concern for what anyone thought, he was able to focus his passions for chasing perfect sound and unique guitar / amplifier tones. He had actually begun moving in that direction in the late 1970s with his “Binaural” recordings, Street Hassle and The Bells. The former album became the first commercially released pop record made using this microphone recording technique. It is also one of my all-time favourite Lou Reed records. The title track is particularly stunning, with its intimate, chamber-like cellos and haunting vocal layers (and an uncredited guest vocal appearance by Bruce Springsteen!). 

Lou’s later records are often overlooked beyond the New York album. There are some remarkable works worth exploring such as Set The Twilight Reeling from 1996, parts of which were recorded live in his home studio called “The Roof.” Ecstasy (from 2000) is a marvel of pure electric guitar and amplifier tonality (and some great songs to boot!). 

A song from that album — “Paranoia, Key of E” to open up a special playlist that I put together to accompany this quasi-review. On this playlist called “LouLou” you’ll hear a bunch of songs which I think are among Reed’s most fascinating accomplishments both sonically and musically. Listen for the interesting recording techniques, the distortion, amplifier tones, guitar sounds. Lou crafted sounds as well as songs.  This was a man who understood his instruments and what he needed to do to convey them to you effectively… so when you played them on your home stereos, you would be able to experience that same vibe that he got in the studio.

Reading My Week Beats Your Year you are presented with a portrait of an artist absolutely passionate about the power of sound and the underlying magic of rock and roll. Lou Reed remains a rock ‘n roll hero in that light, influenced by his heroes Little Richard and Bo Diddly and a multitude of Doo Wop groups. He was a keeper of the flame for future generations to discover. 

My Week Beats Your Year is a great place to begin appreciating him.  Buy the book and read it while listening to his music.

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I’ll take Manhattan in a garbage bag with Latin written on it that says “It’s hard to give a shit these days…”

Indeed, Lou Reed always gave off the vibe of someone who didn’t give a shit – and moreover, someone who didn’t take any shit.  But beneath that hip veneer was an artist who cared deeply, and had the talents to express himself and his keenly-felt beliefs in song.  He was ready for a new start in 1988 when he began recording his first album for Sire Records after his second stint at RCA had concluded. New York would be an album-length reflection on the city that had been his muse, as gritty and grimy and thrilling as the city itself.  Recording with just two guitars, bass, and drums, New York was both an answer to the slick, high-gloss 1980s and an embrace of the primal sound of The Velvet Underground.  Upon its release in 1989, Reed’s high-concept, back-to-basics endeavor paid off.  New York earned him a No. 1 single and is still recognized as one of the finest and most cohesive of all his solo albums.  Rhino has just revisited the album as an expansive 3-CD/2-LP/1-DVD box set with a whopping 26 previously unreleased tracks among its treasures.

The decision was made to primarily record the twin guitars first – singer-songwriter-guitarist-producer Reed on the left channel, Mike Rathke on the right channel – then Reed’s vocals and next, co-producer Fred Maher’s drums.  Rob Wasserman would later overdub his bass parts.  This approach ensured that Reed’s dense words would be front and centre.  The rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness, near-spoken delivery of “Romeo Had Juliette” set the sonic tone for the album: the backings are tight and spare, and never detract from the lyrics (sometimes in free verse without the expected rhyme scheme) yet are still varied in mood and tempo.  Co-producer Maher remembers in David Fricke’s exemplary liner notes that “people were always trying to talk Lou into singing.  But knowing what was quintessential Lou, I wanted to put that voice in front of everything.”

New York offers snapshots of the Koch-era city at the brink, playing like a movie in miniature at 57 minutes.  That length caused consternation for some Sire executives but hardly seems indulgent in the CD/digital era.  Their trepidation over how the album would sound on two sides of vinyl has been rendered moot here, anyway, as it’s presented on two platters (four sides of vinyl) in addition to CD.

Reed’s language is harsh but his attitude is affectionate on “Halloween Parade,” subtitled “AIDS”: “You won’t hear those voices again…you’ll never see those faces again,” he laments.  Underneath the cool aura and descriptions of boozers and hookers, Reed underscored the tremendous loss felt by New York’s artistic community due to the scourge of AIDS.  His heart-breaking realization that “it makes me mad and mad makes me sad/And then I start to freeze…” epitomizes this haunting reflection.

Reed earned a No. 1 single on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart with “Dirty Blvd.”  The three-chord rocker contrasts the rich and the poor in typically frank, blunt terms (“Give me your tired, your poor, I’ll piss on ’em/That’s what the Statue of Bigotry says…”).  But Reed’s comes to the fore with the song’s affection for young Pedro, a victim of child abuse living on welfare at the Wilshire Hotel: “He’s found a book on magic in a garbage can/He looks at the pictures and stares at the cracked ceiling/’At the count of three,’ he says, ‘I hope I can disappear, and fly, fly away.”  Reed’s pal Dion DiMucci brings a bit of New York verisimilitude as he chimes in on the closing background vocals, touchingly affirming Pedro’s prayer.  “Endless Cycle,” too, touches on child abuse and the ravages of drink and drugs over a gentle yet hypnotic, almost country-style gait.

With the aggressive “There Is No Time,” Reed calls for political action.  It’s one of the most urgent tracks on New York and like “Dirty Blvd.,” one that speaks loudly in 2020.  “This is no time for political speech/This is a time for action/Because the future’s within reach/This is the time,” implores Reed before the song concludes in a barrage of feedback.  He’s similarly pointed in the ecologically-minded “Last Great American Whale,” widening his scope to castigate those who would destroy nature.

The bitingly cynical “Busload of Faith” is seemingly a contradiction in terms; Reed observes that “You need a busload of faith to get by” while excoriating those who would profess to espouse faith (“You can’t depend on any churches/Unless there’s a real estate you want to buy”).  It’s one of his darkest lyrics set to one of the album’s most accessible melodies and catchiest choruses.  To a twangy quasi-country beat, a Dylan-esque flow of words, and a poppy refrain, “Sick of You” is startlingly recognizable today as Reed name-checks the Trumps and then-prosecutor Rudy Giuliani among the characters in its increasingly surreal narrative.

On the back cover of the original LP, Reed urged listeners to play New York in one sitting from start to finish, “as though it were a book or movie” – or a play.  On the tour supporting the album, Reed staged five performances on Broadway at the St. James Theatre, which most recently housed the musical Frozen until the outbreak of COVID-19.  The surroundings of the St. James would almost certainly have heightened the inherent theatricality of the song cycle.  The imagery of the “Statue of Bigotry” recurs in “Hold On,” an encapsulation of the darkness that had enveloped the city and that he had catalogued throughout New York.  “You better hold on – something’s happening here,” he intones over a churning but energetic rock rhythm.  That darkness, alas, hasn’t abated; the lyric mentions Michael Stewart and Eleanor Bumpurs, two African-Americans shot by police in 1983 and 1984, respectively.

It’s hard not to draw comparisons between Reed’s turbulent portrayal of New York circa the late eighties with current events today.  On “Xmas in February,” the artist demands attention to be paid to disenfranchised veterans.  Classic rock riffage abounds on “Strawman,” an anthem decrying racism, hypocrisy, and the “greed is good” mentality (“Does anyone really need another President, or the sins of Swaggart Parts 6, 7, 8 and 9/Does anyone need another politician caught with his pants down, money sticking in his hole?”).  He takes further aim at hypocrisy on the punk-ish inner monologue “Good Evening Mr. Waldheim,” pointing his finger not just at the diplomat Kurt Waldheim (whose career ended in a swirl of revelations about his complicity in Nazi war crimes) but also the Pontiff, Jesse Jackson, and Louis Farrakhan.

Yet it’s not all sturm und drang.  Reed co-wrote “Beginning of a Great Adventure” with Mike Rathke.  Over a jazz-inflected, finger-snapping backing, the singer turns to the personal, ruminating on parenthood with wry humour.  (Reed had no children.)  New York ends on a nostalgic note with “Dime Store Mystery,” subtitled “To Andy-honey.”  The Velvet Underground’s Maureen Tucker dropped in on drums for this elegiac but jagged, pensive salute to their old friend Warhol who had died in 1987 at just 58 years old.  This track was recorded live by Reed, Rathke, and Wasserman with Tucker.

The wealth of supplemental material explores New York from every angle.  The second disc reprises the album’s fourteen tracks in sequence from various live performances again featuring Rathke and Wasserman.  On these dates (Washington, DC; Baltimore; London; Richmond, Virginia; Copenhagen; and Upper Darby (outside Philadelphia), PA) which are assembled in the manner of a single concert, Reed and his band played New York for Act One, and a “greatest hits” encore set for Act Two, but that encore is not represented on this disc.  The live take on “Dime Store Mystery” from the Virginia show has Maureen Tucker guesting.  (She and her band Half Japanese opened one leg of the tour.)

A live show from the same 1989 tour, recorded in Montreal, Canada, is included on DVD but again only has Act One of Reed’s touring show.  (It was previously available only on VHS and Laserdisc as The New York Album.)  Reed clearly believed in these songs, uncompromisingly sharing them from city to city and in doing so, revealing the universal truths that propelled them.  Though his vocals were often detached, there’s no doubt in these visceral and utterly confident audio and video performances that he believed every word and knew how to communicate them to an appreciative audience.  In addition to the concert, the DVD also contains two audio bonuses: the entire album in high-resolution stereo, and a chat with the late artist.

The third CD compiles 14 rarities and previously unreleased tracks including rough mixes, work tapes, alternates, the single remix of “Romeo Had Juliette” and its acoustic B-side version of “Busload of Faith,” the non-LP side “The Room,” and live versions of The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” and Reed’s solo hit “Walk on the Wild Side” from the Richmond second act encore.  Both “Dirty Blvd.” and “Sick of You” are heard in two versions: first, mainly instrumental demos from August 1st, 1988 and then in rough mixes from late in the month made at NYC’s Mediasound studio.  These tracks – many of which were sourced from cassettes now residing in the Lou Reed Archive at the New York Library for the Performing Arts – collectively illustrate how seriously Reed took the recording and compositional aspects of his music; on the work tape of “Endless Cycle,” he sings the bass and drum parts as he envisions them.  There’s terrific energy even on the simple instrumental take of “Last Great American Whale” from a work tape of Reed and Rathke rehearsing.  The frequently raw rough mixes are equally compelling.  Some lack central elements of the finished mixes such as the drums on “Sick of You,” while others like “Strawman” are strong and seemingly finished in their own right.  (Tantalizingly, the notes and images show that more demos and rehearsals relating to New York exist within the Archive, though it’s difficult to argue with the curated selection here.)

It’s no surprise that New York sounds so good on this deluxe set, as it was recorded and mixed by Jeffrey Lesser whose diverse credits include Rupert Holmes’ Widescreen, Barbra Streisand’s Lazy Afternoon, and Strawbs’ Deep Cuts.  (Lesser even provided some background vocals with Reed.)  The stellar remaster comes courtesy of the set’s co-producer, Bill Inglot, and Dan Hersch.  The 3 CDs, 2 LPs, and 1 DVD are housed in what’s by now a familiar Rhino format, the LP-sized hardcover.  The full-sized 16-page booklet has David Fricke’s essay, archivist Don Fleming’s notes, lyrics, original credits, and copious images.

New York just might be Lou Reed’s most powerful solo statement.  More than 30 years on, it’s more relevant than ever as it captures the energy, drama, violence, tension, excitement, sadness, and passion that still animate the city.  Rhino’s deluxe reissue makes for a worthwhile trip back to that dirty boulevard.

New York is available now 

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Live At Alice Tully Hall - January 27, 1973 - 2nd Show (black Friday 2020)

“Live at Alice Tully Hall” January 27th, 1973 2nd show captures Lou Reed’s New York City live debut as a solo artist at the Lincoln Center venue during his “Transformer” tour. This show was billed as the emergence of Lou Reed (as separate from the Velvet Underground). VU had long disappeared and Reed had done little till one day there were stunning posters all over the New York subway. Reed was shown in white grease paint and close cropped black hair (very Dracula like). Under his image was the title “Where Will You Be When Lou Reed Emerges from the Underground on January 27th at Alice Tully Hall?,

The poster got the attention of everyone in the NY avante garde and glitter rock scence and foretold the coming of Punk. Just over a year later Television began playing at CBGB and a new scene was born.

He was backed by the Tots, a tight, funky twin guitar combo whose gritty, bar band approach offered an energized approach to Lou Reed’s material whether it was the Velvets (“Heroin,” “Sweet Jane”) or material from his first two solo albums (“Walk on the Wild Side,” “Vicious”). mixed from the original multi track tapes by Matt Ross spring, these 14 tracks are available for the first time. the recording will be released on two Lps pressed on burgundy vinyl and packaged with a new essay by ed mccormack, includes rare pictures and memorabilia.

The Tots: Bass – Bobby Resigno Drums – Scottie Clark Guitar – Eddie Reynolds, Vocals, Guitar – Lou Reed

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A newly remastered deluxe edition of Lou Reed’s “New York” will include 26 previously unreleased recordings.  The 1989 album will be given its first remastering in a massive deluxe edition by Rhino Records, out September 25th.

Originally released in 1989, New York marked the 15th album of Reed’s solo career. Hailed by critics and fans alike, the LP would go down as one of the rocker’s strongest efforts, earning Reed his first Grammy nomination. Notable tracks from the LP include “Busload of Faith” and the modern rock chart-topper “Dirty Blvd.”

The new expanded reissue of New York will include a remastered version of the original album on CD and vinyl, along with 26 previously unreleased studio and live recordings culled from Reed’s archives. These include demo versions and alternate mixes of many of New York’s songs. Bonus material includes live renditions of the Velvet Underground classic “Sweet Jane” and “Walk on the Wild Side,” Reed’s hit single from 1972’s Transformer. The first CD makes up the remastered album, the second CD consists of live versions and the final disc contains unreleased early versions of the album’s tracks.

A concert film, The New York Album, will also be included in the set. The recording, which captures Reed performing the entire LP live in Montreal at the Theatre St. Denis, was previously released in 1990 on VHS and laserdisc. The long out-of-print video makes its DVD debut here; it’s also being made available on streaming services.

A hardcover book accompanies the New York: Deluxe Edition set. It features new liner notes written by David Fricke, along with essays from archivist Don Fleming. Reed’s widow, Laurie Anderson, and recently deceased music producer Hal Willner also contributed to the book’s publication.

The New York: Deluxe Edition comes out September. 25th. It’s available for pre-order now.

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - JUNE 18TH: American musician Lou Reed performs live on stage at Carré in Amsterdam, Netherlands on 18th June 1989. (photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns)

When John Cale left the influential iconic The Velvet Underground it was mostly because of his tense relationship with the late great legend Lou Reed. But in 1990 they both teamed up again to honour their inspirator Andy Warhol, with the masterly album ‘Songs For Drella‘, released over 30 years ago, on 11th April 1990.
Warhol had died three years before, in 1987. Drella was his nickname, a contraction of Dracula and Cinderella.

Lou Reed & John Cale forgot about their intolerable differences that drove The Velvet Underground apart back in 1968. Well they did as long as it toke to create this exceeding album in honor of versatile artist Andy Warhol who died in 1987. The fact that Reed & Cale became musical friends again, at least temporarily, proves that Warhol must have had an enormous impact on the giant duo when they picked up an instrument for the first time.

Even more than we knew. In return the pair created this beauty of an album. The warm and charismatic voices of both Reed and Cale are upfront all the time. They tell stories about their relationship with Warhol, they sing to celebrate their inspirer, they play intimate in respect for an eccentric and stirring mind. Even after his death Warhol pushed the legendary duo to produce an especial work of art.

This memorable record shows, once again, how brilliant these two splendiferous artists could be together. Thanks to their huge songwriting skills and imposing voices they made out of each of the 15 songs a compelling experience. A masterpiece indeed!.

Rolling Stone magazine wrote: “Both now nearing fifty, Reed and Cale are the survivors Warhol wasn’t fated to become. In popular music, only bluesmen and country greats have managed the maturity these two display. Fashioning a litany out of Warhol’s off-kilter pantheon Edie Sedgwick, Billy Name and Valerie Solanis (whose attempted murder of Warhol prefigured the shooting of John Lennon)  “Drella” memorializes an era the way narrative folk music generally has done. Reed and Cale add rare intelligence to their nostalgia, but it’s on a more soulful level that Drella finally hits. The subtle values of modesty, hesitance and loving observation dignify this sweet and knowing tribute to these men’s mentor, prod — and friend.”

Top Tracks: “Nobody But You / Open House / Style It Takes / Small Town”

Release date: April 11th, 1990,

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Lou Reed - Ecstasy

“Ecstasy” is the eighteenth solo studio album by American musician Lou Reed, released in 2000. It is a concept album about Reed’s personal experiences with marriage and relationships and is his final rock album

Ecstasy is even more impressive. Dominated emotionally by dark songs about extreme sex and relationships gone sour, it will once again be linked to Anderson, even though many of its details diverge radically from what everyone knows about the couple’s life together — that they have no children, for instance. Resist the impulse to turn music into gossip and hear Ecstasy for what it is  a complex, musically gorgeous synthesis of the obsessions that powered Reed’s failed 1973 Berlin and his great marriage albums of the early Eighties, especially The Blue Mask.

Since happy love is much rarer in good art than it is in good lives, Twilight remains moderately miraculous — far from innocent of struggle and doubt, it’s nevertheless the most openhearted, sweet-tempered record Reed has ever put out there. It was only a moment, though, and on Ecstasy he says hello to his old demons. Masking profound rage with bitchy back talk, Reed’s romantic egotism has always doomed his personal and artistic commitments — he needs new sensations. But perhaps because he’s put in two decades as an attempted mensch, first with ex-wife Sylvia Morales and then with Anderson, his demons now sometimes seem more like daemons, geniuses, as on the passionately impenetrable title song, which is about a soul-shaking sexual adventure by or with a mythified someone who could be rough trade or a prominent New York performance artist. On the amazing “Mad,” Lou’s tirade after he’s caught cheating — “You said you’re out of town for the night/And I believed in you/I believed you” lays open the asshole he knows himself to be without apologizing for his base-line arrogance. And the impossible marriages of “Tatters” and “Baton Rouge,” both carefully fictionalized, are sketched with the kind of intimate incidental detail only appreciated by someone who has learned from experience how specific relationships are.

Add several paeans to the perverse — among them a hopeless declaration of sexual indenture and a moaned and shouted eighteen-minute noisefest, and three off-message changes of pace that include a slave’s freedom rant and an upliftingly spiritual closer — and the complexity of Reed’s conception should be clear. Words, however, are truly only half of it. Understandably, Reed’s old fascination with sadomasochistic transcendence puts off those who don’t swing that way at least a little. But the music on this record, its gorgeous part, could change that.

Together with his longtime guitarist Mike Rathke and the ever-more-fluid bassist Fernando Saunders, Reed has gradually adjusted his trademark minimalism toward a body-friendly responsiveness. The guitar hooks on “Mad” and “Ecstasy,” far less trebly and staccato than the Velvet Underground norm, render those demented statements rather beautiful — touching and vulnerable alongside hateful and proud. And while the timbre of Reed’s Sprechgesang will never again be as supple as in his moments of youthful lyricism, like “Pale Blue Eyes,” his sere thoughtfulness here is at least as tender — his perspective seems like mature understanding rather than neurotic distance. If rock is to be an art form — and, come on, it’s earned the option — best it should honor life’s physical reality as unmistakably as this music does. Let his fellow big shots respect him. Us guys’ll just give him R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Heavyweight Double LP reissue of Lou Reed’ s 18th and final (non-collaborative) solo rock album “Ecstasy”, Originally released in 2000.

Never let it be said that Lou Reed has lost the ability to surprise his audience; who would have thought that at the age of 58, on his first album of the new millennium, Reed would offer us an 18-minute guitar distortion workout with lyrics abut kinky sex, dangerous drugs, and (here’s the surprise) imagining what it would be like to be a possum? For the most part, Ecstasy finds Reed obsessed with love and sex, though (as you might expect) his take on romance is hardly rosy (“Paranoia Key of E,” “Mad,” and “Tatters” all document a relationship at the point of collapse, while “Baton Rouge” is an eccentric but moving elegy for a love that didn’t last) and Eros is usually messy (“White Prism”), obsessive (“Ecstasy”), or unhealthy and perverse (“Rock Minuet”). Reed genuinely seems to be stretching towards new lyrical and musical ground here, but while some of his experiments work, several pointedly do not, with the epic “Like a Possum” only the album’s most spectacular miscalculation. Still, Reed and producer Hal Wilner take some chances with the arrangements that pay off, particularly the subtle horn charts that dot several songs, and Reed‘s superb rhythm section (Fernando Saunders on bass and Tony “Thunder” Smith on drums) gives these songs a rock-solid foundation for the leader’s guitar workouts. As Reed and his band hit fifth gear on the album’s rousing closer, “Big Sky,” he once again proves that even his uneven works include a few songs you’ll certainly want to have in your collection — as long as they’re not about possums.

Track 4 from his eighteenth solo album “Ecstasy” released in 2000 copyright Sire Records. This album was his last solo release before his death in 2013. It was well received by critics as another strong album, some say his “masterpiece.” Written by Lou Reed and produced by Lou Reed & Hal Willner. RIP Lou & Don Alias. Featuring: Lou Reed – Lead vocals, lead & rhythm guitars, percussion on “White Prism” Mike Rathke – Lead & rhythm guitars Fernando Saunders – Bass & background vocals Tony “Thunder” smith – Drums, percussion & background vocals Special Guests: Don Alias – Percussion on “Ecstasy” Laurie Anderson – Electric Violin on “White Prism”, “Rouge” & Rock Minuet” Steven Bernstein – Trumpet & horn arrangements Doug Wieselman – Baritone & tenor saxes Paul Shapiro – Tenor sax Jane Scarpantoni – Cello

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When the Velvet Underground’s second album descended on the world in January, 1968, nobody was ready for it. As the story goes, it was a relentless, screeching, thudding, scoffing assault on the pop sensibilities of its time. For its 45th anniversary it was reissued in expanded, remastered form, and listening to White Light/White Heat now. The Velvet Underground and Nico, the year before, had had Andy Warhol’s imprimatur to promise that its passages of bleeding-raw chaos were art; it had also had the complicated but unmistakable beauty of the songs Nico sang as a lifeline for the tiny mainstream audience that caught on to it at the time. White Light/White Heat didn’t have that either.

By the time they released it, the Velvets were downplaying the art-world connection (despite the very arty slash in the album’s title, and the fact that its black-on-black sleeve was designed by the Factory’s Billy Name). Nico was now out of the band, although bassist John Cale would continue to work with her for years. And the album was a relentless, screeching, thudding, scoffing assault on the pop sensibilities of its time: six songs with lyrics designed to horrify the bourgeoisie (not that they’d have listened to the Velvet Underground in the first place), ending with a one-take, two-chord, 17-minute speed freakout. It clung to the bottom of the album chart for two weeks, disappeared, and went on to become the glorious, tainted fountain from which all scuzz flows.

That’s the White Light/White Heat of legend, anyway, keeping time was never their strong point—it’s been reissued in expanded, remastered form, as if what this pinnacle of sloppy noise needed was remastering. As always, the title track, which seems like it should start cold with Cale and Sterling Morrison’s backing vocals, sounds like it’s had a little trimmed off the top to remove an extraneous sound—although, of course, extraneous sounds are kind of the whole point of this album. When I first bought it in 1973, when I first became a Lou Reed fan, but over the years I have become to love it almost as much as “VU and NIco”. It is certainly harder to get into on first listenings, at least for someone who likes 3-minute songs and nice melodies – “Here She Comes Now” is about the only song on the original album you could call “pretty”. But it is an absolute classic. Side 2 of the original album has become my favourite side, with “I Heard Her Call my Name” an amazing bit of guitar playing, must have been one of the wildest songs ever recorded at that time, and “Sister Ray” at 17 minutes long, wasn’t exactly designed for maximum radio airplay.

Lou Reed’s song writing is often a lot more conventional than it’s reputed to be. Strip away the noise and flash and references to illicit drugs and sex, and “White Light/White Heat”, “Here She Comes Now”, and “I Heard Her Call My Name” are all the sort of simple rock’n’roll that Reed had been cranking out at Pickwick Records a couple of years earlier. (So is “Guess I’m Falling In Love”, recorded in scorching instrumental form at the White Light sessions.

If you get the 45th anniversary 2-CD version you are getting the best value for money, with various extra tracks, not all of them essential, but “Stephanie Says” is an absolutely beautiful song, and there is a wonderful, chugging, early version of “Beginning to see the Light”, and of course you get the excellent “Live at the Gymnasium” as well.

On the Anniversary set, the live disc appended to this edition is a reminder that the Velvet Underground were radical in a totally acceptable way for their time—that, professionally speaking, they were a party band with an audience of hippies, who appeared on bills with the likes of Sly & the Family Stone, Canned Heat, Iron Butterfly, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Chicago Transit Authority the year White Light/White Heat came out. The performance, apparently from John Cale’s collection, was recorded at the Gymnasium in New York in April, 1967 (two of its songs previously appeared on the 1995 Peel Slowly and See box set). It presents the Velvets as a full-on boogie band, whose set is bookended by the instrumental grooves “Booker T.” and “The Gift”—turns out they’re slightly different songs, contrary to what VU fans have assumed for the past few decades. The rest of the gig includes what might or might not have been the first public performance of “Sister Ray” (it was still a very new song, at any rate), and one legit addition to the canon: “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore”, a chugging electric blues that wouldn’t have been out of place in Creedence Clearwater Revival’s early repertoire.

What possessed Cale to start playing an out-of-time, two-note bass part louder than anything else at the end of “White Light/White Heat”, and how could he have guessed that that was a great idea? Was the famous split-second pause before Reed’s splatter bomb solo on “I Heard Her Call My Name” intentional? What the fuck was up with Reed filling in words—”SWEETLY!”—in the middle of Cale’s vocal on “Lady Godiva’s Operation”, and why is it still hilarious? Speaking of that song, might lyrics about a delicate hypersexual creature interacting with “another curly-headed boy,” directly followed by a medical horror-show, have anything to do with a curly-headed songwriter who was given electroconvulsive therapy to “cure” his bisexuality as a teenager? Why is “Sister Ray” way, way more potent than any other extended jam on a simple riff by any other American band of the 60s?

It’s surprising to hear anything besides the universe catching its breath after “Sister Ray” ends, but the first disc of this reissue is filled out with other previously released evidence of John Cale’s final months in the Velvet Underground: the instrumental “Guess I’m Falling In Love”, both versions of the electric-viola showcase “Hey Mr. Rain”, and the band’s thoroughly charming stab at making a commercially viable single, “Temptation Inside Your Heart”/”Stephanie Says”. There’s also a previously unheard alternate take of “I Heard Her Call My Name” (not quite as good as the official one, and mostly interesting to hear which of Reed’s apparent ad-libs weren’t), and one fascinating curio: an early version of “Beginning to See the Light”, recorded at the “Temptation Inside Your Heart” session. By the time the song appeared on The Velvet Underground in 1969, it had become lither and wittier, and Reed had sharpened a few of its lyrics; this broad-shouldered, clomping version is distinctly not there yet, but everything the Velvets released on their official albums is so canonical that it’s strange and heartening to realize that their songs didn’t just spring into existence already perfect.

Watch Lou Reed Perform "Walk on the Wild Side" & More in 1986

Lou Reed’s solo work has been argued about for decades. Is 1973’s Berlin the stuff of genius or a paranoid lunatic? Is 1975’s Metal Machine Music groundbreaking or truly unlistenable? That’s up to the listener to decide, but whatever you think about Lou Reed’s solo material, you have to applaud his creative ambition.

If you can’t wrap your head around some of Reed’s stranger material, there are songs from 1972’s Transformer that everybody can get behind. The David Bowie-produced Transformer featured some of the greatest songs of Reed’s career like “Walk on the Wild Side,” “Satellite of Love” and “Vicious.”

This day in 1986, Lou Reed performed at the Ritz in New York City to promote his 14th album Mistrial with a four-piece backing band—Woody Smallwood (keyboards), Rick Bell (saxophone), Fernando Saunders (bass) and J.T. Lewis (drums). Reed performed selections from Transformer, Mistrial and even Velvet Undeground’s Loaded.

Setlist: 0:00:00 – Real Good Time Together 0:06:02 – Sweet Jane 0:11:29 – Turn To Me 0:17:09 – New Sensations 0:24:51 – Satellite Of Love 0:30:19 – Satellite Of Love cont’d 0:32:09 – Underneath The Bottle 0:35:38 – No Money Down 0:39:34 – Mistrial 0:44:17 – The Last Shot 0:52:26 – Walk On The Wild Side 0:59:47 – Street Hassle 1:04:33 – Tell It To Your Heart 1:14:41 – I Remember You 1:19:32 – I Love You Suzanne 1:23:29 – The Original Wrapper 1:30:59 – Doin’ The Things We Want To 1:39:22 – Video Violence 1:47:57 – Legendary Love 1:51:27 – Vicious 1:54:54 – Down At The Arcade 1:59:34 – Rock & Roll